The majority of pro cyclists live and train in Europe, but for many the Amgen Tour of California is one of their favourite trips of the year.
Winner of stage 1 this year – his 17th stage victory in America’s premier bike race – Peter Sagan is the most famous of the European cyclists who regularly visit the West Coast. “I haven’t missed a single edition of the Tour of California since I turned professional in 2010, so obviously I have a lot of good memories, given the fact as well that California is one of my favourite places in the world,” said the triple UCI World Champion. “California feels like a second home to me now. In 2015, I was crowned ‘King of California’ at the Rose Bowl. San Francisco and San Diego are two of my favourite cities and whenever I’m in California I always try to spend a few days there.”
Many riders know California from the cinema industry. “Los Angeles, Malibu, etc, there are many cool places to stay!” said Belgian star Greg Van Avermaet. “We always see them in the movies so it’s nice to go there, enjoy the time there and also racing on another continent. I always try to go once a year to the US, either for the Tour of California or Colorado or Utah.”
For Bradley Wiggins, now a retired champion who won the race overall in 2014 and made his farewell – outside of the UK – there as a road rider in 2016, the attraction at the Tour of California came more from the music. A fan of the 60s, he revealed: “To be honest, this race is special just because there are so many iconic places in that area, from the time trial in Folsom with the prison of Johnny Cash [the writer of Folsom Prison Blues, 1955] to Santa Barbara where we had a stage finish once. For someone from England, obviously it was nice to see all these famous places. They’re so iconic, you know. Everywhere you go, you see a place and remember: that’s where Jimi Hendrix played, for instance. It brings so many memories of things.”
It’s a different appeal for Nacer Bouhanni who is finally in California this year after he missed out in 2017 because of a serious injury he sustained at the Tour de Yorkshire. Bouhanni didn’t have posters of cyclists in his room when he was a kid, but Mike Tyson was everywhere. An occasional boxer himself, the Frenchman is also a big fan of Mohammed Ali. In his mind, America represents the greatest boxers: “I like to discover new races, that’s why I was looking forward to the Tour of California,” said Bouhanni. “It’s all new to me: new routes, new landscapes… But I didn’t miss any of the TV coverage in the previous years and I really enjoyed watching the race.”
“Every year I get a chance to take part, I can’t miss one of the nicest races in the world!” echoed Spain’s David de la Cruz. “My biggest memory is my second place at Mountain High Resort [in 2014]. It was hard to lose the stage [to Chaves] but on the other hand it was nice to be up there fighting for the win.”
UCI World Champion in the time trial, Rohan Dennis said: “I love the Tour of California and I have really missed it over the last two seasons. My first year was 2013 and it was hot and a very hard race. I struggled a lot but I also found my legs later in the race with a podium in the TT and nearly held on to the front group on Diablo.
“I spent a bit of time in California with my best mate in 2012. We did a bit of an American trip for three weeks and obviously California had to be on that list. Loved it and it was a great time with absolutely no bike riding at all. It’s about the little things, for example being able to get a burrito in just about any little suburb or town.
“Also the fact the place is a lot like Australia, and being in Europe all year you really miss being able to ask a question in your native tongue, without having to explain what you actually mean with hand gestures. So what I’m trying to say is that it’s a bit like going back to Australia and racing.”
Riders in the UCI Women’s WorldTour share the same positive feelings about the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race empowered with SRAM. Italy’s Erica Magnaldi, for example, said: “Amazing memory, one of my favourite races last year. Because of the results, I finished 4th, one of my first important results, and because it was my first time in America. It was wonderful. The places were something new for me, the space, everything was so big. Everything was amazing – the place at Lake Tahoe was amazing, I really loved it.”